For 16 months, Paul Matthew Colohan III was locked up in a county jail, accused of rape. Now officials say he shouldn't have been there at all.
After his arrest in January 2005, the wheels of justice turned slowly for Mr. Colohan, 26, who was released from the Columbia County Detention Center on May 24. Prosecutors dropped all charges against him after a DNA test cleared him as a suspect in the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl.
"This is about the longest that I have known one to take,'' Assistant District Attorney Ashley Wright, said about the time it took the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to process Mr. Colohan's DNA sample.
She said the DNA taken from the victim was received by the GBI lab on Jan. 19, 2005, and the DNA from Mr. Colohan was received on Jan. 27, 2005.
Ms. Wright said the GBI lab posted an Internet result report May 19 and she was made aware of the result May 24, the same day charges were dropped against Mr. Colohan.
On Thursday, Mr. Colohan's father, Paul Colohan Jr. said he never expected the DNA tests would take so long.
"The thought was it was going to be six days, maybe six weeks maximum, and he'd be back. Well, a year and a half later I got my son back,'' Mr. Colohan said.
Since his release, his son has been staying with a friend and is trying to get a job. He said he didn't know how to contact him.
"You can imagine how this destroyed the young man's life. He has no place to live. He has no place of employment. Everything was taken from him,'' he said.
Mr. Colohan was arrested Jan. 22, 2005, four days after the alleged incident occurred. On Jan. 18, 2005, a 14-year-old Grovetown girl, who at the time was a pupil at the county's alternative school, told authorities she had been raped while on her way to a school bus stop.
A witness who called police said the girl was crying hysterically, her clothes were shredded and she was bleeding. The district attorney's investigative file shows the girl had superficial cuts to her stomach, legs and arms, but a hospital exam showed no evidence of sexual trauma.
The 14-year-old gave Grovetown Department of Public Safety officials a description of her alleged assailant. Grovetown authorities released a sketch, showing a white man with his right eyebrow pierced, three moles under his right eye, a long thin nose and a small patch of hair under his bottom lip.
When his son was arrested on the rape charge, Mr. Colohan said, he immediately noticed a marked difference between the sketch and his son.
"One of the defense's arguments at the time when he was brought in was he didn't look anything like the drawing,'' he said.
On Jan. 21, 2005, the 14-year-old was given a polygraph test by Richmond County sheriff's Investigator Scott Peebles. The district attorney's investigative file on the case states that the victim was deceptive, according to Investigator Peebles' analysis of her answers.
At that point, Ms. Wright said, the teen gave authorities Mr. Colohan's name, saying she hadn't done so before because she was afraid. After the teen visually identified him as her attacker, Mr. Colohan was arrested and his wait for justice began.
GBI spokeswoman Vicki Metz-Vickery said Mr. Colohan's DNA was part of a large backlog of cases.
"We are still working 2004 cases. And we are still about 1,000 cases backlogged.''
Still, she said, the GBI has a process through which the local investigating agency in charge, or District Attorney's Office, can file a request to expedite a DNA test.
"That's where a local agency can come to them and say that they do have someone in jail, and if they let us know that they need that particular case expedited, then we make it a priority,'' she said.
Ms. Wright said she is not aware of any such request being made through her office. Ms. Metz-Vickery said her office has no records of an expedite request in Mr. Colohan's case.
Ms. Metz-Vickery said that in the past two years state funding has made more positions available for the crime lab, adding that "we are making some headway and we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will.''
That said, the average time for a DNA sample to be received, tested and ruled on at the GBI lab is 107 days, she said, adding that most GBI biologists are working about 10 to 15 DNA cases a month.
Mr. Colohan questions why his son was kept in jail months without bond when the DNA test results hadn't been completed, causing five continuances of his son's case. Until the charges were dropped, he was scheduled for a sixth appearance in court Monday.
"It makes sense to me that in a case like this there would be some strong consideration given to setting a bond,'' said Sam Sibley, the public defender for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, whose office defended Mr. Colohan.
"But again ... those things are functions of the prosecutor's office and what kind of a recommendation they feel is in the public's best interest.''
His criminal record might have played a part in Mr. Colohan's long jail stay. Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said Mr. Colohan had an unrelated, previous felony arrest in Columbia County since 2000 on deposit account fraud and was on probation at the time of that arrest.
Whatever the reasons, Mr. Colohan's bond was denied by a Superior Court judge. Even if bond had been set, Paul Colohan Jr. said, his family wouldn't have been able to pay.
Despite the holdup in his son's situation, his father said his family still believes in the justice system, which he said eventually worked for his son, albeit a year and a half later.
The prosecutor, Ms. Wright, said that if it is discovered that the girl was intentionally untruthful about the attack, she could face prosecution in juvenile court.
As for now, the District Attorney's Office is assessing how it should proceed with the case.
"That decision has not been made, so I really can't comment on it,'' Ms. Wright said.
Staff Writer Greg Gelpi contributed to this article.
Reach Preston Sparks or Valerie Rowell at (706) 868-1222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan. 18, 2005: 14-year-old Grovetown girl tells police she was raped on her way to a school bus stop.
Jan. 19, 2005: The Georgia Bureau of Investigation receives DNA from the victim.
Jan. 21, 2005: The 14-year-old is given a polygraph test. Investigators suspect she is being deceptive in her answers.
Jan 22, 2005: The 14-year-old tells police she knows her attacker and identifies Paul Colohan III, who is placed under arrest.
Jan. 27, 2005: The GBI Crime Lab receives DNA from Mr. Colohan.
March 30, 2005: A Columbia County grand jury indicts Mr. Colohan on charges of kidnapping, rape, aggravated assault and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime.
May 19: GBI crime lab posts an Internet result of the DNA test.
May 24: Charges against Mr. Colohan are dropped and he is released from jail.
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